The Right to Vote

The year was 1980 and the candidates vying for the Presidency of the United States were the Incumbent, Democrat Jimmy Carter from Georgia, Republican Ronald Reagan from California and Illinois Independent John B. Anderson. At the time, I was a sophomore in college and just the thought of being able to vote made me feel so grown up! Up until then, the only adult things I had done were leave home and get my driver’s license.

“I’m excited and a little nervous about voting on Tuesday, ” is what I wrote in my journal a week before the election. I didn’t want to make any mistakes so I made a plan. I set a time to go to the polling place on campus, put aside my ID and voting materials and reread the issues. However, at that time, I was more concerned about how to mark my ballot than who and what I would be voting for.

A polling location station is ready for the election day.

Although my parents were Democrats, I didn’t want to claim a party affiliation, so I registered to vote as an Independent. And while I read up on the candidates and issues, my understanding of what I was about to do was very basic. There were six “questions” on the ballot in Massachusetts that year. One prohibited discrimination against disabled people, two concerned taxes, two others were about government salaries and the last was about legislative voting for emergency laws. The only one that I had a strong feeling about was the first measure, as I really couldn’t relate to the others.

What did I know about the candidates? I knew Ronald Reagan was an actor from California. I wondered why an actor be running for office? It didn’t make sense to me. Jimmy Carter. I knew he had already served as President, so he had experience in the job. He also smiled a lot and had a nice Southern accent. John B. Anderson? All I knew about him was that he was concerned with the issues versus political party beliefs.

Regarding each party, I knew Republicans supported big businesses, guns rights, and restrictions on immigrants coming into the US. Democrats were concerned with civil rights, social equality and racial desegregation. And I knew, Independents voted for candidates based on issues rather than the party.

At that time in our country, I knew a lot of people were out of work and there were long lines at gas pumps. In the world, I knew that the US was trying to get American hostages freed from being held in Iran. Because these events didn’t directly effect my life as a college student, I was aware, but not concerned. When I grew older and could take a wider view of my life in the world, I became a better informed person and a more educated voter.

Even though I was limited in my knowledge of the candidates and issues then, I was proud to have voted in my very first Presidential election. The “I Voted” sticker stuck to my sweater was proof that I did my civic duty that day, November 4, 1980.  I wore it all day, so everyone could see.

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